Category Archives: building code

So…don’t you hate the functionality of Googles offline maps?

Don’t get me wrong, I like the IDEA of offline maps in Google! There are loads of times that you will want to use maps functionality when you aren’t connected to the internet. What bothers me is that Google gives you the ability to create offline maps, and then makes it impossible to use them when you are offline.

Here is an example. I created an offline map on my Android smart phone for a rink in a small town near me.  Here it is.

Screenshot showing expiry date of offline map
Screenshot showing expiry date of offline map

What you see here is the offline map area I had previously saved and the fact that it doesn’t expire for at least a month. You also see that, because I was not  connected when I opened to see the map, I was only given the option of deleting the offline area or updating it.  No option to actually use it.

If you select “cancel”, the map is not available and if you select  “Update” what you will get looks like the second screenshot below.

 

Screenshot of what happens when you select Update.
Screenshot of what happens when you select Update.

Here, you can see that you can either cancel the request to use the map (and do nothing) or try to connect again. If I am still not in an area where you can connect there will be no using of the map.

This is obviously not what the designers were going for, but that is what they got…and it is absolutely useless.

OK, then why whine about it here. Well, say that you decide to give Google feedback on the app. How do you go about that? Google doesn’t have a support email account that you could send an email to with the screenshots attached. They do have a nifty little “Send feedback” option in the settings area of the app, and it even has an “include screenshot” function, but here is the kicker, you have to close the error message to get to the send feedback function, and the screenshot that is attached is the window without the error message. Not very useful.

I applaud Google’s attempts to work offline, but they really didn’t do enough testing on this feature. There are a lot of us that don’t have data plans that are big enough to support on-line access in remote locations.

In my opinion, Google’s developers need to go back to the drawing board and redo their “state diagrams” to explore what state the mobile device is in when the maps are likely to be used and work with them there.

What do you think?

Ever tried to get support from Intuit (maker of Quicken and Turbotax)?

I have used Quicken (by Intuit) since the mid ’90s.  I have purchased a new version each year as a new one became available (usually when I bought my tax software from them) so that I would always be up-to-date.

Generally, I have been pleased with the software but over the years the service has varied from OK to abysmal.  At the moment, it seems on the Abysmal end.

My current problem is that when I try to download my bank transactions, Quicken pops up and says that I have to log into my online account before it will let me open the downloaded transactions.  Why is this an issue you ask? It is an issue to me because I cannot be sure that Intuit isn’t getting me to log into their site so that they can play man-in-the-middle with my financial transactions. It is unlikely, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

This issue is, in all likelihood, just a bug in a new patch for the 2016 software as it only started happening recently, but there is no way to tell and the information on their support site is dreadful.  I do know that one version of the software (which I assume to be the American version  because the documentation on the support site refers to $US) has had a similar bug because there is a patch for that bug on the support site…one that won’t install on my Canadian version of the package.

When self-help didn’t work, I was left with no choice but to ask Intuit for help. When you go to the Intuit support site you are given the option of phoning or chatting with them. The estimated wait time for calling is always about twice as long as the chat time…which means that most users would opt for the chat support. In my case the estimated wait time for chat support was 25 minutes – which is not acceptable, but what can you do? So I waited.

Here is a screen capture of my end of a one-way communication with Quicken (you can tell that I was a bit peeved when I started the chat session and things got worse from there):

Intuit service woes. My end of a one-way communication
Intuit service woes. My end of a one-way communication

So this is where we have arrived in 2016. Companies sell software that they don’t completely support or pretend to support by putting in chat sessions or phone support with unacceptable wait times (while this is bad, it isn’t as bad as companies that hide their telephone support behind circular voice messaging options that always end up leading you to recorded messages, but that is for another rant on another day).

What do you think? Should companies be able to take us for granted? In your mind, is this an acceptable level of service? Bear in mind that the software is generally pretty good save for this new bug.

So, I am now up to 1 hour and 28 minutes “Waiting for an agent…” and I would like to know:

Would you buy a product from Intuit?

Stay tuned for my next poor service story for software support or inadequate software design. As for me, I am going to end the chat session and have a beer.

 

The growing “support yourself” attitude from developers

image

How many times has this happened to you? You upgrade your software to the newest version and a critical function stops working? Or you are using software and you realise that some important functions were developed by folks that didn’t understand our didn’t care what the function was supposed to do?

So you hit help and it takes you to a poorly designed help function that hasn’t been updated since three major versions ago. So, now you Google the support page with hopes that Google will get you closer to support for your version, and voila… You are taken to a support page for your version of the software that tells you what a smart consumer you were for buying their software. It gives you a link to support for the software … and that support consists of a poorly designed FAQ page whose answers all take you back to the same “congrats for buying our software” page.

You then look for other service options … which you find are limited to a pay option (for software you purchased) or the ubiquitous “ask the community” option.

You opt for the latter option and find yourself reading about hundreds of other users with the same question with a few “try this and hope” answers from the community … but nary a comment or response from the development team.

So now you find yourself wondering why no one from the development team is moderating the discussion pages and providing definitive answers to common questions (or at the very least, taking note of the problems and either fixing them out documenting the workaround for the issue).

This happens to me all the time and I’m getting tired of it. I always try to solve problems on my own, reading the manuals; reading online help blogs; reading community fora; and then I search in vain for a way to contact the vendor.

I know you can’t talk to every user individually, but if you are putting out software, you have to let people know how you expected them to use it and you have to seek feedback for those occasions where it doesn’t work the way you expected. If you set up a community support area, you have to monitor it, looking for common problems and answering them definitively.

You also need to see where users may be confused about what you expected them to do and find ways to correct their expectations.

Finally, if some function in your software isn’t working and you can’t fix it, you need to acknowledge the deficiency and update all of the community blogs and help documents to tell folks it doesn’t work and not too bother looking for solutions. You then need to come up with a timeline for really fixing the problem and let your users know when it will be fixed.

So what do you think? Is there anything we can do to fix this problem? Is it a problem at all?

Construction is set to begin on a $150 million-plus solar powered greenhouse in South Australia’s Port Augusta

John [jpratt27] has published an excellent summary of a new plan to develop a new solar-powered greenhouse in South Australia.  This plant will not only produce fresh vegetables but will also be used to desalinate water in a very arid region.  A few more details are needed about how the resulting salts will be dealt with, but the project looks very hopeful.

JD Power – Builder Satisfaction Survey – Methodology concerns

Here is an e-mail I sent to the “ask-us” link from the JD Power web site about their survey methodology for “New-Home Builder’s Customer Satisfaction Survey”. I haven’t heard anything back from JDPA, but I will update this post if I do.

Be careful how you interpret the results of this survey as it is currently conducted.


From:   [Hidden] 
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 9:09 AM
To:  [Hidden]@jdpa.com’;  [Hidden]@jdpa.com
Subject: Builder Satisfaction Survey

Hi:

I took part in one of your builder surveys (the Canadian New-Home Builders Customer Satisfaction Survey) a number of years back; in fact, results of an earlier version of the survey formed a large part of the reason I bought my house in the first place. The idea of the survey is a very good one, but the survey methodology is fatally flawed.  You send out the survey within the first year of occupancy, when the builder is still on the hook to fix deficiencies.  A longitudinal survey would be far more useful.  Similar metrics, but taken at the 6 month mark, the 2 year mark, the 5 year mark and the 7 year mark (just as the Tarion warrantee expires).  This would help you see what owners think about their builder once the hidden problems start to rise to the surface. 

I gave my builder,  [Hidden] , a glowing reference when I responded to your survey, but if I were asked again, my response would be far different and I would be able to provide real examples of poor service and cut-corners.

Without this type of long term look at satisfaction with home builders, the survey is misleading at best. 

Sincerely,

 [Hidden] 
 [Hidden address] 
 [Hidden] ONT

What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

earthship brighton
figure 1: Earthship Brighton (Photo credit: ivanpope)

Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“?  I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away.  What is an Earthship then?  In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.

The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA.  The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico.  As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary.  Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology.  The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!